Saturday, May 30, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 30.5.20

Today was a momentous day for me. For the first time in my life, I saw a Quail on the ground on British soil. In fact I saw two!
It was early morning (just after 5am) in a broad bean field near Crowland in south Lincolnshire. My friend Hugh W was already on the scene as I parked. And as I got out of the car he beckoned me to hurry. I knew he had a Quail in his sights and 30 seconds later, so did I. Great, glorious, dolloping scope views of a beautiful tiny Quail, shouting his head off at the back of the field. And then, as if by magic, the other appeared just a foot or so away from its ‘rival’. They followed each other along and a cross the ‘tram lines’ between the bean plants, occasionally jumping up vertically to pick an insect from a bean leaf, in rather comical fashion. They are delicately marked, subtle, yet very beautiful birds. The black throat is a sort of anchor-shaped ‘beard’ which expands into view when the birds sing their ‘ waa waa Wit-wa-wit Wit-wa-wit’ song. The head has a central pale crown stripe like a Snipe, and the back has stripes which also recall Snipe.
I love them!

Quail, near Crowland, Lincolnshire, 30.5.20
Later in the morning, when the Quails had gone quiet and vanished among the beans, I headed down to Eldernell on the Nene Washes (further south, in Cambridgeshire). Here, I saw something I have never see before, too. A Marsh Harrier dive-bombing a Bittern in a tree! The Bittern fought back briefly with a stab of the beak, but neither made contact, and the Bittern went back down to earth and disappeared (which seemed to pacify the Marsh Harrier somewhat).

Marsh Harrier, Eldernell, Cambridgeshire, 30.5.20

Drumming Snipe (the sound is made by those outer tail feathers!), Eldernell, Cambridgeshire, 30.5.20

Friday, May 29, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 29.5.20

It is a little worrying that I couldn’t see or hear any Great tits, babies or otherwise, in our garden today. But, perhaps that means they are wandering around our neighbourhood (although our garden is the best for wildlife!). In other news, we have a juvenile Dunnock in the garden, a Stock Dove has been singing from a neighbours’ roof and the Magpie family are still about.
Oh, and the Tree Bumblebees are still thriving in a nest box outside our kitchen window. The pond is an intriguing place at the moment. We have a bit of a plague of duckweed covering the surface. But, when I tried to scoop some of it out, I found the duckweed was crawling with life: from flatworms through amphipod crustaceans, pond snails, soldierfly larvae and even Smooth Newts. So, I have abandoned that particular operation. It doesn’t look as exciting as a pond not covered in duckweed, but it is at least providing a vital home for lots of wee beasties.
Oh, and we have had a Speckled Wood in the garden again. It likes to sunbathe on our rather lichen encrusted white plastic garden chairs…

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Thursday 28.5.20

‘Our’ garden Great Tits are now all out of the nest box and roaming ours and our neighbours’ gardens. They are pretty hidden in bushes and trees, but give themselves away with their constant begging calls. I am not sure how many survived transition from box to garden, but it doesn’t sound like many! Perhaps only one or two…
But talking of birds nesting in our garden, I have news of the magpies which nested in the top of a thin, Honeysuckle-topped Alder tree at one end of our pond. I have been concerned about this pair, which seemed to spend ages making their nest but have since been quiet and elusive. It seemed that they had failed in their breeding attempt.
However, just now (10.230am), I popped out to check (you can only see the nest from a certain angle near our compost bin), and to my surprise, there were two quite large, pale-gaped Magpie babies, already out of the nest, (and already with the start of their tails!), making little rough grunting calls. I will try to sneak a photo later. But I am delighted that these excellent birds have successfully raised young in our garden.
Some people don’t welcome Magpies. I love them!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Quail near Crowland, Lincs

Singing Reed Warbler, Great Fen, Cambs

Singing Corn Bunting, Great Fen, Cambs

Lockdown Diary: Wednesday 27.5.20

Yesterday, for the first time, the Great Tit babies started showing their faces at the opening of the nest box outside our kitchen window. Well, one did, at least. The adults were feeding them frantically, seemingly searching every nook and cranny fo our garden for any morsel they could get their beaks on.
But this morning, there was a twist. Just before I left for my morning cycle to Ferry Meadows [nothing to report, folks, apart from the Red Kites are still sitting on the nest and I saw Banded Demoiselle and Hairy Dragonfly], my son Eddie told me there was a baby Great Tit on the ground under the nest box.

Adult Great Tit at our garden nest box, Peterborough, 26.5.20

Baby Great Tit looking out of our garden nest box, Peterborough, 26.5.20
And he was right. He is out there now, hopping around and perching on a couple of saucepans which just happen to sitting out there as ‘props’ (don’t ask why!). I just hope the local moggies, of which there is an excessive number around here, don’t get curious…

Bay Great Tit on our garden saucepans, Peterborough, 27.5.20

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 26.5.20

I got a message last night that a birding friend of mine had heard at least three Quails calling on farmed fenland very near Peterborough. And first thing this morning another friend was there, hearing perhaps five calling males! I was on the scene by 5.20am, but the Quails had stopped calling.
A pair of (really tatty) Ravens flew by, the air was full of Sky Lark and multiple Corn Bunting songs. Red-legged Partridges, calling Yellow Wagtails and the odd Cuckoo. But no Quail. But then there was one calling. Then another. I waled along a track to perhaps record the sound of this one, coming from the middle a fresh wheat field. As I got closer a third bird called which sounded like it was from the track in front of me, less than 50m away.
Suddenly, this bird jumped up and flew across the other bird’s field and dropped down. I was able to follow it with my binoculars flying about 75m. This was only the second time I have ever seen a Quail in the UK! It was also comfortably my best ever view, with details like the face pattern, the long pointed wings and the white trailing edges to the wings visible. No photos, but the video is ingrained in my mind!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Monday 25.5.20

Instead of doing my usual cycle to Ferry Meadows CP, this bank holiday Monday I took a trip to the Nene Washes at a site called March Farmers, where you can walk along the raised bank (the Nene Way) and observe the partially flooded, extensive grasslands. I saw a singing Corn Bunting along the entrance track, had three male Cuckoos cuckooing, a group of three Cranes flew by and the fields were full of Little Egrets, but nothing rarer that I could see.
Back in the day, the trig point along the bank used to attract Yellow Wagtails. And today, I was able to nostalgically relive those memories, with a photo of a male Yellow Wagtail doing just that.

Yellow Wagtail on trig point at March Farmers (Nene Washes), Cambs, 25.5.20 (Mike Weedon)
In the early evening, I fancied a trip to the Great Fen to see how the birds were in this extensive area of managed ‘rewilded’ fen and grassland. There were plenty of Corn Buntings, and a Raven flew by, as did a Hobby. As the sun dropped Reed Warblers and Cuckoos sang, as did a Little Owl singing from the top of a barn. And finally I heard the weird creaky call of a Grey Partridge. Magic stuff.

Singing Corn Bunting, Great Fen, Cambs, 25.5.20 (Mike Weedon)
I took a photograph of a female Reed Bunting with a huge ‘grub’ in her bill; a reminder that even such diehard seedeaters as buntings must feed their young on insects (which of course is the reason they are declining so massively in these times of excessive pesticide use).

Female Reed Bunting with bill full of insects, Great Fen, Cambs, 25.5.20 (Mike Weedon)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 24.5.20

After yesterday’s Purple Heron (non)incident, I decided to have another go (in the early morning) searching along the River Welland on the road we call the Deeping High Bank (though I suspect that is not its real name). The whole river here is lined with flag irises, and there are plenty of well vegetated ditches in which a Purple Heron could easily hide.
By far the most interesting bird I had was an extremely unseasonal male Stonechat, which I first saw on the road in front of my car. I stopped and it flew up and past the side of my car, but then promptly disappeared. We had one pair of Stonechats breeding in the Peterborough area (in Cambs) a few years ago. But they are generally rare in summer. Was this a breeding bird? Perhaps, we will never know.
Other highlights of the morning included three Grey Partridges, a couple of Marsh Harriers and five Barn Owls, braving the high winds (presumably after an unsuccessful night’s hunting).
I went to check out a couple of partially flooded farm fields which have had one or two passage waders in the last couple of weeks. One of them has a nesting pair of Avocets (which are rare breeders around here, even though in Norfolk or closer to The Wash eg Frampton Marsh, they are common nesters). I doubt the water in the field will last long enough for them to bring up their chicks. But I managed to see that they at least have eggs, during a delicate transition from one adult brooding to the other.
Avocet brood changeover, near Peterborough, 25.5.20
Also on this farmland, there were a couple of Lapwing families, including one with small chicks. I also recored two Greenshanks, five Ringed Plovers and two Little Ringed Plovers, there.

Lapwing chick, near Peterborough, 25.5.20

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 23.5.20

A friend of mine got up early, very early indeed, for his birding near Peterborough this very windy day, today. He saw various things, mainly a few passage waders, but most striking was a flyover flock of half-a-dozen Crossbills. they were heading south-westish, which meant in the direction of the Peterborough area’s largest pine stand, at Southey Wood (a bit south of Helpston). So, I started my day looking for finches there.
However, within a few minutes of arriving, news came that another friend of mine had just found a Purple Heron, flying along the River Welland by Deeping Lakes LWT (ie less than 10 minutes away by car). So, naturally, I went to try to refind that bird. I must really learn this lesson: Purple Herons are almost impossible to refind around here! I saw one briefly at Maxey Pits (part of the same Welland-based river system) last spring, and watched it land in a small reed-lined ditch; and despite searching for hours on eand, it never reappeared (at least in sight of any birders).
The best I got was hearing a singing Corn Bunting (which seem to be having a good spring around here). Then the wind became so excessive, I turned my attention to jobs around the home…

Friday, May 22, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 22.5.20

I gave Ferry Meadows a miss this morning and had a lie in. This was mainly because I took trip out until late last night, listening for night birds, and was too tired to get up and out before work (I will exercise later, instead). If you are interested, it was moderately still (now it is very windy) in the gloaming and the dark., and I heard perhaps half a dozen Water Rails, maybe three Bitterns and a couple of Tawny Owls, plus some horribly barking Roe Deer. Oh, and the International Space Station went over near 11pm and I even manage to determine some structure on it by looking through my scope!
My drive home was delayed by some roadworks and a hefty detour through the fens, but I did see a delightfully tiny baby fox out there, which was probably only about 18 inches from nose tip to tail tip.
I have just taken a short break from work (the office is our kitchen), to pootle in the garden for a few minutes. Something is always going on. Swifts are whizzing around overhead, a male Blackbird was gathering great beak-fulls of moss for a new nest, and the sparrows were achirruping. Our pond is a bit over-covered with duckweed, but the Smooth Newts seem to like it. There are loads of them in the pond at the moment, and I could see them shifting the duckweed around just now.
Also, I noticed a Water Measurer. We do well for these charming little ‘bugs’. they are like ‘badly-made’ Pond Skaters, without the speed or agility. I took this close up photo when the pond was pretty new, in 2007.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Thursday 21.5.20

A warm and brooding morning, I feel something rare is about to appear around here! ‘Birdy’ is how I would put it. But there was nothing exceptionally rare in Ferry Meadows CP, this morning (yet!). Again, the two Nightingales are shouting their hearts out. Shouting is a bit unfair, as I find their virtuoso singing quite delightful and am enjoying it as much as possible while I can. Who knows when we will next get to enjoy this wonderful song in the park? One bird is particularly showy, reminding me of holidays of yore in Spain and France, where the Nightingales always seem more showy than our birds (the inverse of Robins, I guess!). Here is another photo I took of him.

Nightingale, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough
In the same area, there are nesting Lesser Whitethroats, Song Thrushes, Willow Warblers, Dunnocks and Goldfinches. The whole scrubby Hawthorn patch is packed with breeding birds (and the air is full of their songs). Other interesting birds in the park today included a singing male Cuckoo, a fly-by, new-in male Pochard and a pair of Oystercatcher (moderately scarce visitors to the park).

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Nightingale, Ferry Meadows CP

Tawny Owl pair, Eldernell, Cambs

Water Rail song at Eldernell, Cambs

Lockdown Diary: Wednesday 20.5.20

I suppose it is because I have got used to having Ferry Meadows CP almost to myself that it comes as a shock when cycling into the park at a leisurely 7am, today, the whole place seemed to be heaving with people. Golfers were playing on the adjacent golf course, the car parks were half full and dog-walkers, fishermen and walkers were everywhere, like on a Bank Holiday. I have become a curmudgeon.
Still, the Red Kite was still sitting on its nest, ignoring the comings and goings (or at least not overly concerned by them) and everything was in its right place (Aprart from a swan nest which has been abandoned/predated and just one dead cygnet remains).
The highlights today were watching a few Swifts come down to the still clam waters of Gunwade lake, open their huge gapes and scoop up water, wings raised above the head like a skimmer (bird that is, not dragonfly). Also, a Common Sandpiper was flying around that lake, the first I have seen there for a while.
But the real stars, today, were the Nightingales. One in particular was singing its heart out and even showing quite well in the sun at times.

Singing Nightingale, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough, 20.5.20 (Mike Weedon)

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 19.5.20

On 14th May (aka last Thursday), we had a California Quail shouting its weird song (‘Ah!’) from a tree in our front garden. Just now, I was talking to my son, Ed, in his bedroom (at the back of the house), when a loud ‘Ah!’ interrupted our conversation. The quail was back! I went down and told my wife Jo, who had missed this weird alien the first time round, and grabbed my camera.
Here are some photos I took of this charming bird (it may not be wild, but it is still beautiful).

California Quail, Peterborough, 19.5.20

Lockdown Diary: Monday 18.5.20

Ferry Meadows CP is rapidly filling up with people! To be perfectly honest, I miss the days when the car parks were closed, everyone and his/her dog were not running free, disturbing nesting swans and grebes, warblers and finches, and fishermen were not lining every side of every lake!
But the Nightingales are still singing, the odd Cuckoo is still calling and you can never stop the Whitethroats from their little bursts of scratchy warble. Again, there was a feeling this morning that nothing was really on the move. Adding new birds to my FMCP year list is becoming increasingly feels like we are entering the summer doldrums.
But I shouldn’t be too hasty in my judgement, as in previous years we have had some of the best stuff (birdwise) at this time of year. For instance, in 2013 Ferry Meadows had Black-necked Grebe, Common Scoter and White-winged Black Tern, all within a few days of each other, in mid-May.

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 17.5.20

The Government has said we can ‘go out birding’, as long as we are sensible and observe the appropriate and safe distancing measures. So, when I heard about some baby Long-eared Owls not too far from home, my son Eddie and I did some exercising together, with binoculars around our necks, yesterday evening, around sun-down.
Almost immediately we saw a hunting Barn Owl, and not too long after saw our first (and only) baby Long-eared Owl of the evening. It was one of the smallest baby LeOs I have ever seen. So cute!

Baby Long-eared Owl
As the darkness grew we heard the famous creaky door squeaking (the begging call of the youngsters), and even were lucky enough to see the silhouette of an adult Long-eared Owl visit the tree the squeaking was coming from. Wonderful stuff.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 16.5.20

Again, I awoke to the sound of Blackcap singing this morning. I wonder if there is a possibility that they are even breeding somewhere in or near our garden. After all, I was not aware of the Robins during the nesting phase, but the young speckled offspring is still hopping around our lawn.
‘Our’ baby Great Tits are getting bigger, judging by the volume of their squeaking from the nestbox outside our kitchen window. The adults are very accurate at flying straight into the hole in the box, bearing food.
I went to check on our nesting Magpies, and they are still in and around the nest, but with no evidence of any hatching, yet, or at least none I could detect during my brief spying mission.
The other wildlife highlight of my day was a chance to photograph a Hairy Dragonfly. This species is one of the first to ‘emerge’ and fly as adults, each spring. It looks a bit like a small ‘hawker’ dragonfly but there are no hawkers flying this early in the year. In this photo you may get the idea of where it gets its odd name…

Hairy Dragonfly (Mike Weedon)

Friday, May 15, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 15.5.20

There has been a radical drop in bird song this week. There is literally no dawn chorus outside our bedroom window. Even the Great Tit has given up, instead concentrating on endless foraging for the growing youngsters in the nestbox outside our kitchen window. That said, down at Ferry Meadows CP, the two Nightingales are still belting out their songs.
The best action of the day came from Gunwade Lake, though. Firstly, I watched a Kingfisher whizzing diagonally across the lake with a fish in its bill. It was amazing seeing it transform from sapphire, via electric blue to dazzling emerald green. The power of refraction of light and ‘structural colours’.
Secondly, I saw a Sand Martin catch a white, fluffy feather mid-air, then it dropped it and swooped down to catch it again, twice(!), before heading off to line its nest.
Thirdly, I saw something I have only seen very rarely: a pair of Swifts mating in mid-air, over the lake. Quite and amazing achievement, if you ask me!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Temminck's Stint, Deeping Lakes LWT

When Will Bowell went to check on his father Ray's Spoonbills yesterday early evening, he found this Minx as well! My ninth in the Peterborough area and only my second at this site.

Lockdown Diary: Thursday 14.5.20

When I poked my head out of the front door this morning, I heard a weird yelping. My first thought is that some kids down the road were making weird yelping noises. Then I realised that the noise was coming from our tiny, overcrowded (with bushes and trees) front garden, and moreover from a Blackthorn packed with House Sparrows, which seemed to be carrying on as normal, despite the yelping.
Here is a sound recording I made.

The fact that the sparrows were ignoring this odd bird made me realise it was not the owl it sounded like! Was it a baby corvid? Whatever it was, it didn’t mind the sparrows, wither, as it kept on calling, and it didn’t mind me trying to stare up at it through the foliage. So, I did what any self-respecting birder would do and recorded the sound, just in case…
After about 15 minutes, I thought that it would be best to back off, walk down the road and look back into the Blackthorn and see if the bird was visible.
And there it was, to my utter surprise, a male California Quail lifting up his head, flicking back his kiss curl and yelping!

California Quail, our garden, Peterborough, Cambs, 14.5.20 (Mike Weedon)
There have been a few reports of a (certainly escaped) California Quail turning up in gardens around Peterborough in the last couple of weeks, so perhaps I should have guessed that what it was. But I had no idea that they yelped or that they yelped from the top of trees! A very odd start to the day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Spoonbills, Deeping Lakes LWT

Originally found on the east pit by Will Bowell on 3.5.20, these two young Spoonies were refound by his father, Ray, yesterday (12.5.20). Where they have been in the meantime is anyone's guess.

Lockdown Diary: Wednesday 13.5.20

I woke to the sound of a Blackcap singing gently outside our bedroom window, this morning. It was not belting out a full song, which made me think (in my drowsy state) that it may possible that Blackcaps are nesting nearby. Or garden is full of breeding birds at the moment, so it seems. I have already mentioned the squeaky baby Great Tits and juvenile Robin, but we also have an active Magpie nest in a tree at the end of our pond (a nest which I am particularly proud of!), and Blackbirds, Collared Doves, Woodpigeons, Goldfinches and Wrens seem to be behaving in ways suggesting they have nests in or very near our garden (though I haven’t found these, yet… ).
My pride in our Magpie nest is partly because they have chosen our garden rather than nextdoor’s overgrown leylandiis (which are a terrible source of shade for our garden), in which they have nested in the last couple of years. This year’s nest is in an Alder I planted as a ‘whip’ in 2001, which has since grown to about 15-20 feet and been rather overwhelmed by Honeysuckle. If I find the right angle in the garden I can just see a square inch of Magpie feather in the dense bundle of sticks at the top of the tree, with a garland of Honeysuckle flowers around it!
Why have I not talked about Ferry Meadows CP? I came down to find I had a flat tyre on my bike, so spent the early morning mending the puncture (classic thorn job) rather than ‘exercising’. Maybe later…

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 12.5.20

Though a cold start the cloudless sky and relatively light winds are promising a glorious mid-May day today. Such conditions usually produce very little change in terms of migrant birds, but they make for a very relaxing and enjoyable hour or so in the field. As I gazed out over Gunwade Lake (at Ferry Meadows CP), there were relatively few martins and Swallows out there. But then a new wave of House Martins and half a dozen Swifts came out over the blue.
I could watch Swifts all day. It is curious that the bird is presumably named, like Speedy Gonzalez and Usain Bolt, just because it is fast. But they are magnificent when they put a bit of determination into the odd aerial sprint. Every day recently there are about 30 House Martins around the same area of Gunwade Lake. I wonder if these are non-breeders, or just waiting to go and occupy (or build) a nest somewhere.
Talking of nesting, I was surprised yesterday to look out of the kitchen window and see a fully grown speckled baby Robin hopping around. I had no idea Robins had even laid eggs nearby, let alone fledged a family. While looking at this new speckled chap, I noticed that both Great Tit adults are frequently visiting the nest box on the side of our garage (also outside our kitchen window; and the same box in which they raised a family, last year). So, presumably there are little youngsters in that box, hungry and needing constant feeding.
This nest box is one of our most successful historically. Over the years it has has had Blue tits raising broods as well as a colony of Tree Bumblebees, one year. But, after Great Tits spent ages nibbling away at the edge of the plywood of the hole (to no avail), I decided to enlarge the hole in the box with a drill, last year, and since then the Great Tits have shown their gratitude by nesting there.
May is a funny old month. One minute you are greeting migrant birds, the next migration seems on hold and it is all about nesting birds!
POST SCRIPT: I have just noticed that Tree Bumblebees have occupied one of our other nest boxes, close to the house; one which was formerly used by Great Tits. Incidentally, this same nest box also has a nest on top of it, I think from a previous year’s Robins.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Song Thrush and Nightingale duet (x2)

Lockdown Diary: Monday 11.5.20

It was still cold (very cold!) this morning and again hirundine numbers were a big feature of my early morning cycle. There were relatively few singing birds today (they like a bit of warmth!), but I did hear a shouty Cetti’s Warbler near the bridge over the Nene called Bluebell Bridge (a small suspension bridge, which has lovely views along the river in both directions). Other than that, a fly-by Kingfisher was the most exciting bird of the day.
It feels good to be back in our warm kitchen, where the computer lives!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 10.5.20

Brrrr! Today was a return to almost wintery conditions, with an ugly north-easterly wind. The main influence was to push down big numbers of hirundines (Swallows and martins) down to the two main lakes at Ferry Meadows (called Gunwade and Overton). Overton was covered in Sand Martins (which nest nearby on an island on the smaller Lynch Lake, a few metres away) and Gunwade was carpetted in House Martins and Swallows.
Ferry Meadows has a great record for the rare Red-rumped Swallow, a southern European visitor; with four seen there in the last decade. So my chief target was finding one of these elegant beauties. no such luck!
Meantime, back home the Swifts are in our itte close and look again to be interested in the roof of the house two doors up. We put up Swift next boxes under the eaves of our house in the early 2000s and have never had them nesting yet…

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 9.5.20

A beautiful morning in the park , and I took the opportunity to do some sound recording of one of the Nightingales which have been delighting anyone who hears them for the last couple of weeks. Here is a recording I took this morning of a duet between a Song Thrush and a Nightingale, with accompanying Woodpigeon and the odd rattle from a Lesser Whitethroat.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 8.5.20

A relatively quiet time in the park, at least with regards to movement of migrant birds. But it is striking again how many warblers and other songsters we seem to be having this year. In every reedy area (and Peterborough is blessed with lots of reedy fringed ditches and channels), there is a positive racket of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers. There are are almost too many singing for your mind’s sanity! It is a right old confusion of continuous loud, jumbled song. Superb. It always amazes me how many people go for a walk in the country with headphones or earphones on. They are missing the real glory of spring!
Also, great news, is that the Swifts are back in our neighbourhood of the city, screaming away as only they know how. Also superb!

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Friday 7.5.20

It was a lovely sunny day in the country park, again today. And there were two clear highlights of my morning’s exercise cycle wildlife-watching session. The first was my first sighting this year of baby Lapwings, two of them, on farmland just over the river (Nene) from Ferry Meadows itself, viewed from the path following the side of the Nene Valley Railway. The chicks were about the size of a Common Sandpiper and very cute!
My second highlight was during a spell trying to see a reported Green Hairstreak butterfly in a little sun trap area of FMCP. I failed, but I did have my first sighting (at least that I can remember) of a very small day-flying moth called the Small Yellow Underwing. A real little beauty of a moth made my day!

Small Yellow Underwing. This tiny day-flying noctuid looks rather like one of the Pyrausta micro moths. Today was the first time I remember seeing one; it was in a sunny corner of FMCP, near Lynch Bridge. Delightful little fellow!

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Wednesday 6.5.20

As it is another sunny day, it felt like it was going to be more of the same, this morning on my cycle to Ferry Meadows CP and back again. I was enjoying listening to the two Nightingales still singing away in a battle for territory, when, at 7.25am, I got a text from a friend saying he had found a Whinchat, not far away, by the Nene Valley Railway (a local steam line). I was in the scene in a few minutes and we soon relocated this distant female Whinchat, but it almost as quickly slipped from view.
It was in a rough and ‘weedy’ ditch which heads out into an arable field and has attracted a decent few Whinchats (and the odd Redstart) over the years, particularly in autumn. I carry a small scope in my rucksack, and balanced it on my bike to watch the chat (before it vanished… ).
A few minutes later, what appeared to be the Whinchat perched up a few metres from where we last saw it, on the top of an Elder bush. But, when I scoped it, it wasn’t a female Whinchat at all, it was a pristine, male! After a couple of minutes it, too vanished, and neither bird was seen again! It is odd how birds which habitually perch on the top of bushes, trees, fence lines and tall weedy plants, can disappear with such ease!

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Tuesday 5.5.20

It was back down to Ferry Meadows CP for me today, though it was not a day of great change (the weather has been a bit too nice!). Perhaps the most remarkable thing at the moment is the sheer number of warblers in the park, particularly Sylvia warblers. Whitethroats are everywhere, Blackcaps are very common, but the real stars of the show are the huge numbers of singing Garden Warblers. Their glorious bubbling warbles seem to be coming out of every tree. In fact, today, I counted five singing males in the 100 metres or so between Bluebell Bridge and Ham Bridge, in the park.
The other highlight, for me, was a Cuckoo, which seems to have a set circuit around the 'reserve’ area of the country park, then over the River Nene to the nearby golf course (and its high poplar trees), then back again, even singing ‘cuckoo’ as it flies.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Monday 4.5.20

Well, this was one lockdown day when I didn’t leave the house at all., not even to go into the garden. Sundays’s exertions made me somewhat tired, so I basically lounged around at home. My wildlife highlight, indeed, was hearing the singing Great Tit outside our bedroom window.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Sunday 3.5.20

I took a slightly longer cycle out with my 18-year-old son, Eddie, today. We toured Ferry Meadows, but then headed a bit north of the park to the airstrip of the Milton Estate which is a grassy strip of a couple of km, near the village of Ailsworth. The best thing there were a pair of Grey Partridges (in a similar spot to a week or so ago). These are pretty scarce birds around Peterborough, and to find them on a cycle ride was great.
We then ventured a bit further north, in a bit of a loop and were able to see both Wheatear and a glorious male Whinchat on our cycle. This is the peak time for these latter beauties which pass through the Peterborough area in very small numbers in early May. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera with me for this ride, but I can assure you it was a special bird!

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Lockdown Diary: Saturday 2.5.20

Today was back to quiet normality after the thrill of finding a Wood Warbler yesterday. There was not further sign of this migrant. Instead the park was much as normal, with the Nightingales still blasting away their songs seemingly in competition, on Coney Meadow. The number of Swifts is increasing daily, and House Martins are at times the most frequent hirundines (apart from the Sand Martins visiting their colony).

Friday, May 01, 2020

This is the second Nightingale singing on Coney Meadow, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough, this spring.

Lockdown Diary: Friday 1.5.20

Being officially on holiday, I decided to have a slightly more extended vigil around Ferry Meadows CP this morning. I also knew I would be around a while, as I had to take my bike to have some minor repairs, and as it happens I was booked in to the bike shop on the road into the park itself (luckily still open during the lockdown).
Things were going well with the addition of a singing Reed Warbler (113 for my FM 2020 list [FM = Ferry Meadows CP]), and I had racked up a decent 62 species, before I had to go to the bike place, including a family of Grey Wagtails with full-grown youngsters (which seems really early), Nuthatch, lesser Whitethroat and a sighting of a Red Kite still sitting on its nest.
But as I was leaving the park into Ham Lane, I heard a brief snatch of song to my right. I stopped and listened again: “Probably a misheard bit of Wren song”. But it sang again and it was unmistakable, the spinning silver sixpence song of a Wood Warbler. Wood Warbler is easily the best bird I have seen in the park this year, and easily the best bird I have found locally all year. They are seriously scarce passage birds through Peterborough; for years they were one of my main bogey birds. But now (in 20 years) I have found two (and seen a further three). This is my second for Ferry Meadows and only my first singer there. What a great bird, to liven up any day!

Wood Warbler, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough, 1.5.20 (Mike Weedon)

'Spinning silver' sixpence song

'Anxiety' call